‘Tis the season for some coastal snooping
PUBLISHED: 08:38 16 February 2020 | UPDATED: 08:38 16 February 2020
With Storm Dennis whipping around North Norfolk, Keith Skipper says it’s the perfect time for a bit of coastal snooping
Hi. Join me on the mean streets of Cromer and less fashionable environs as a burst of February sunshine apologises for poking its nose into another season's business.
I'm a private eye. My real name is Dick Barton-Turf. But I only use that when a bit of extra gravitas is needed to impress potential clients who carry bags of money, lofty self-esteem and a passion for making society waves in posher parts of Broadland.
You can call me Crabpot, bobbing around in darker waters outside Poppyland Pimpernels Investigation Agency. I've worked with the best before washing up here, including Denver Sleuth beyond Downham and Walsingham Matilda, an expert on the fleshpots of Fakenham.
Let me tell you about my first major examination on this coastal beat more suited to sou'wester and oilskins rather than a new tuxedo every week and glasses you can stand umbrellas in. I tell customers I'm 39 and have been for the best part of 30 years. I don't regard myself as a dead shot, but I can be pretty dangerous with a wet towel.
She wore a smile as forced as early-season rhubarb. Lips of fire-engine red loitered around teeth of drifting-snow white. She crossed her legs with enough slow sensuality to evoke fond memories for a legion of winter-gnarled veterans queuing for flu jabs on a mufflers-and-mittens morning.
Her fur stole threatened to spring alive, desert those elegant shoulders and cause trouble for my mug of tea steaming in a world of its own by a shabby copy of the A-Z of Sidestrand Speakeasys. I offered her a cigarette from a new case I'd bought out of the last case solved.
A broken halo of smoke sat over our silence. Suddenly she snapped open a shiny crimson handbag, fussed inside like a mole packing hastily for a holiday and lifted out a small black-and-white photograph into the light.
She fixed me with the sort of doleful look my secretary Velda reserved for pleas to increase her wages before she walked out in a huff to marry a rich attorney from L.A. That's Lower Aylmerton.
"How can I help, Miss ….. or is it Mrs …..?". My initial inquiry fell on a plump cushion of warm breaths and earnest glances. "Just call me Ladybird. That's my stage name. Real-life details to follow if you take the job and I agree to your terms." She purred like a kitten needing a fondle before a basket nap. I fought to keep pet habits to myself. Haggling lasted for nearly 30 seconds of quality time. I had to keep on feeding the fire of ambition, albeit in a more homely grate since stepping way out of my class and beyond my patch in a vain search for The Matlaske Falcon.
Ladybird's photograph introduced me to her missing beau, a real estate agent called Elmer Edge, whose last known address was the optimistically-labelled Sunrise Boulevard on Happisburgh Cliffs.
He specialised in mansions with wedding-cake decorations around double dormer windows and a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith or Chrysler Sedan living outside. A man of simple tastes. Simply luxurious.
Cometh the hour, cometh the boy … time to engage the burgeoning talents of my latest bloodhound with acne, work experience wonder Marcus, on loan to me from the scholarly confines of L.A. That's Limpenhoe Academy.
Still a few rough edges to smooth out before Marcus can frame a few detection diplomas and so cover damp patches near the office door. I just know he will refer to our new client as "that bishy-barney-bee mawther".
An air of rustic innocence can open doors hitherto locked to more genteel inquiries but my silver-tongued sidekick must accept not all members of society enjoy being hailed as "my ole bewty".
I served my angst-ridden apprenticeship with Cromer Crime Crackers in a golden age before second homers, bobble-hatted twitchers and celebrity chefs rendered it all but impossible to know where the next suspect might be coming from.
Ladybird has flown. She'll be back to reopen those dainty wings of supplication on my humble runway of hope. Marcus is out on his BSA Bantam looking for Mr Edge. Perhaps a new era is dawning and we must be worthy of its creation and its challenges.
I'll be ready one day to solve the biggest mystery of all, The Lost Village of Understrand. In the meantime, I'm heading for L.A.
That's Lazy Afternoon.
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Norfolk's stock in the culinary world has risen dramatically since Delia Smith became a majority shareholder at Carrow Road in a bid to find a winning recipe for the Canaries.
Her involvement with Norwich City Football Club inevitably attracted many other celebrity chefs to this part of the world - although the natives were quick to point out wholesome old-fashioned food has always rated highly on the social menu.
With some of our tasty local items in mind, like dumplings, samphire, cockle, crabs and herring, I set about putting together my favourite Norfolk meal, taking one or two liberties with Norfolk village place-names and favourites of blessed memory.
Something here to suit all tastes - a bit like dear old Norfolk itself.
SKIPPER'S NORFOLK DELIGHT:
Candlelit Supper at Lower Dodman Village Hall to celebrate completion of the Coronation Bus Shelter
Starter - Coypu Soup with little bits of bread on top. (Only when Coypu is in season). Alternatives- Egmere-onaise or Wighton Bait..
Fish Course - Skipper's Kippers from Yarmouth, specially prepared by Scottish fishergirls.
Main Course - Roasted Great Bustard with Sprouts, Turnips and Parsnips. (Only when Great Bustard is available in quantity). Alternative - Cromer Shelduck on a nest of Fresh Samphire, Crabsticks and Paston Lettuce. Another alternative- Jugged Ferret.
All these can be served with Norfolk Dumplings, preferably floaters, or Stewkey Blues.
Dessert - Fair Buttons, flavoured with Ginger and served with Stewed Bullaces and Evaporated Milk.
Or Norfolk Biffin windfalls from Appleton or Syderstone.
Beverages - Home-brewed Sugar Beet Wine, Trunch Punch, Barney Beer, Castle Riesling or a nice mug of cuckoo.
Selection of Local Cheeses - including Wendlingdale, Cheddargrave, Mousehold and Bodham Blue.
Coffee and After-Nine Mints - Norfolk diners occasionally stay up late.
Sweet Trolley - If you are still peckish, you have a choice of Eccles Cakes, Hethersett Jellies, Marsham-mallows or Pudding Norton.
Toast - usually burnt.
Entertainment - A big helping of Norfolk Squit provided by those still awake and not on the washing-up rota.
Carriages - just after midnight. Light buffets or packed breakfasts available.